Tuesday, 28 October 2008

What I Did On My Holiday

What a great weekend!

On Saturday morning, I sailed off with the band from Penzance to St Mary's aboard the mighty Scillonian III, then on to the outlying island of Tresco in the tiny ferry. The passage was fine and was spent grazing at the bar. This theme continued on arrival; we set up in the lounge of the New Inn ready for the evening gig.

9.00 pm, strike up ... 'We're The Sex Slaves from Hell, we go like this!' Avalanche of notes. At first the audience was restrained. This was partly because most of them had just eaten and didn't want to dance around until we were two-thirds through our set, and also many were ... well, knocking on a bit.

It was a rather recitely gig until some monied young women - Tara, Hermione, Penny - arrived and started to jump about on the dance floor. The jiggling of the nubiles was an irritating distraction but we stuck to the job. Then, two old-timers got up - and could they jive! This seemed to be the signal; young and young-at-heart flung themselves around for the last half hour, a neat ending to our gig. Encore complete, we hit the tab and finally retired around 2 am.

Sunday. After an extra hour's sleep caused by the clocks going back, and an extra hour's sleep caused by the tab, it was salmon for breakfast and then off for a nice healthy walk. The scenery is magnificent on Tresco, though some of the facilities are curiously manicured. Directional signs are simply everywhere, even though you are unlikely to find yourself lost on an island the size of a large roundabout. On the signs, distances are measured in minutes. We are told that from a certain point, the shop is 'three minutes', the heliport 'eleven minutes' and so-on. Since the signs don't indicate whether the time is supposed to be by foot, by cycle, or in Celeb Class aboard Concorde, they are of limited use.

The formal gardens wanted a tenner each to get in and we gave the entrance a cheery wave as we passed by. That's the other thing about Tresco. It's expensive, thereby protecting the affluent visitors from the proles.
The island also has a slight feel of what one imagines exists behind the gated retirement communities beloved by the most popular country in the world.

For all that, Tresco is stunningly beautiful, a trick it can pull off in most weathers, and I love it there. Sunday lunchtime's gig was also good, though by then I was beginning to feel a bit off-colour (a germ, not the previous night's efforts thank you), but I got through it like a good soldier.

Monday was going-home day, and it takes the best part of a day because of the ferry connections. But there is no rush to leave such a lovely place.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Once More, Once Less

Week 3 of my MA. Getting to know the ropes a bit more now. I've had a good look around the campus and located all essential services (well, nearly all), successfully attended another week of lectures and handed work in on time. This is annoyingly unlike my experience of industry, where you could hold a meeting either in order to delay anything you didn't like, or mask anything you hadn't done.

Today we saw the Bolster film we had made in Week 1, a truly heroic effort which we toyed with entering in the local film festival. It brought the week back to me, and I'm so glad I was a small part of it. Perhaps I will be able to purloin a copy - I hope so.

I'm having to make Herculean efforts with my work this week, as over the weekend I'm off to the Isles of Scilly with my band, the Sex Slaves from Hell. No work will be possible except reading. So all aboard the good ship Scillonian III
(whatever happened to I and II?) from Penzance for a three-hour sail. The Scillonian is flat-bottomed and draws about three inches, because the harbour at St Mary's - principal of the Isles of Scilly - is very shallow. Hence all but the calmest passages are guaranteed to induce vomit. I shall take Quells before I embark, but I won't tell anyone.

We have a couple of gigs lined up at the New Inn on the island of Tresco. You can't beat the location for beauty but the place is for the seriously well-heeled, so an opportunity to visit all expenses paid, and earn some money as well, isn't to be sniffed at. And the inn allows us a tab.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

A Big Lump

This is called catch-up.

For well over two weeks, I've wanted to keep an account of my new life. It's quite a change and involves a shift from senior management in industry (woo hoo) to the wonderful world of the post-graduate student. I love it. I have kept a record from day one of my chosen course, an MA in Professional Writing, which I'm taking in beautiful Cornwall. Jump, I said over the summer, eschew the feeble enticements of a regular, monster income, copper-bottomed pension
and all the trimmings. Pursue your dream of writing - you know you'll like it once you get started. Much to my surprise, I did jump. Christ, what have you done now?

Rather than reproducing every detail of the last two weeks I'll give you a summary. After that it's death by a thousand cuts: the laughter and tears of a mature student who should know better but thankfully, doesn't.

Week One: Monday 6 October - Friday 11 October

My first day at University College Falmouth. I met so many new faces: colleagues, tutors, the IT department, the admin team. I entered lecture rooms for the first time in twenty eight years. I investigated the campus and found several invaluable resources. I was given a student card that allows me to travel cheaply on buses, should I wish to.

I came to the Professional Writing MA with a background in industry, mostly defence with a bit of ship repair thrown in, working in commercial management: drafting and negotiating contracts and various legal agreements. It is a huge shift from that world to post-graduate student, and there was very little time to adjust. When I finished my job to return to education, my office shoes were ceremonially thrown in the nearby Penryn River. That was on Friday, here we are on Monday. Welcome to your new life.

As promised by the college in the welcome pack information, we hit the ground running in an intensive start to our course. To reassure us, we were told this pace would not be typical but that the first week's project (writing and filming a short er film interpreting the folk tale of Cornish giant Bolster) would require extraordinary effort. It would also be a handy getting-to-know-you exercise.

Great toil was indeed put in by all. Our group decided our version of Bolster would cast the giant as a successful but aging rock star with behavioural difficulties. If you know about Bolster, you can see the link.

At the day's end I left the campus with my head completely in a spin. I had enjoyed the time, but what I had done and who I'd done it with were a bit beyond me. Just like undergraduate days then. I hoped for future clarity and went for a few beers.

At work on the Bolster script all day. The activities were lively and warming. I very much enjoyed learning so much so soon from colleagues who have done this type of thing before. A couple are nearly thirty years younger than I.

Hearteningly, it emerged that it wasn't just me who had finished yesterday in a boggled state. Several admitted to having felt the same way.

Back home, I went through the course handbook and was a bit taken aback, not only by the amount of things we must do but by not knowing how to do them. I dare say all will be revealed.

Bolster rewrites and the final version of the script. Today we also met the professional actors who will star in our film.

Because there weren't enough actors to take all the parts, one of the students had to be pressed into service, and ... it was me! Oh thank you God for making me six foot two and so deemed suitable to play the part of a thick bouncer. My nicely-shaven head also helped, I felt. I was given one line.

During the afternoon, we were released from captivity to view the locations at which we will be filming. These included the Course Leader's house, which is a minor mansion. There's money in this writing game then. I was anxious to leave promptly today, as I have to sort out some of my costumes for tomorrow.

Members of the student team worked hard overnight on storyboarding. Our technical guru explained with humour how the camera, lights and sound equipment work - the plan was, we would operate this machinery ourselves. Today the location was Minor Mansion. Our actors arrived, costumes and props appeared, equipment was tentatively picked over. Off we go then.

Act 1 featured the bouncer, smartly turned out in black, with dark glasses and Mr Spock earpiece. He fluffed his line only once. During the other takes, his dialogue was executed with a wholly convincing inability to communicate. Fortunately the pro actors took over quickly and the bouncer was sadly soon a memory. Although I had no more jobs to do today I stuck around for a while watching the process: it was fascinating for I'd never previously been involved with this type of thing. Everyone seemed to remain cheerful despite the high level of activity and interaction.

When I got home I discovered I had left my half-eaten lunch 'on location'. I had planned to have the rest for my tea. Already I was suffering for my art.

More Bolster filming. I was given the role of sound person, responsible for recording the dialogue. This involved holding a microphone on a long boom for many hours, and listening out for unwanted background noise. It also provided an opportunity to watch colleagues as the acts were directed and rearranged. I was struck by several students' use of very precise and expressive language to convey what they wanted of the actors.

At the end of the working day we had a good-spirited wash-up, one of the most cheerful I've ever attended. Big thanks to our Project Leader Jane, she made it such fun all week. She was great at keeping the project going - more or less - smoothly for us, and providing guidance in altering it on the hoof whenever things got a bit sticky. She has probably done this sort of thing before.

Thank you to our actors too, who went along with it good-heartedly - I salute you!

I had a terrific time this week. I was involved with activities I'd never previously known anything about, and got a great deal of real pleasure out of it. I met some great people and looked forward to developing friendships as we go through.

Week Two: Monday 13 October - Friday 17 October

Arrgh. IT problems at home meant I was unable to print my very first piece of course work. It sat in the laptop somewhere, and on my gold external storage, but Word had somehow crashed. In the end I got a work-around by loading a copy of Open Office but it wasn't ideal. However, it did mean I could at least print, and avoid a rather undesirable start to the first lecture tomorrow, ie having nothing to take.

The afternoon was better though I misunderstood the time table and went into the campus when there was nothing on. So I went to the library (it's warmer than my rented flat) and looked at pictures of food.

In the evening I did some reading and tried to sort out in my mind the various course websites, information streams, blogs, sundry obligations and must-dos. Then I put all that aside and visited my friend Wayne the Brain (of whom more later).

An enjoyable very first lecture, followed by a reading and critiquing of our pieces written the previous week, which passed in a thoughtful way. It was our first taste of critiquing the work of our new colleagues, albeit oral rather than written (always my preference) but the comments were constructive and positive.

One colleague had done a beautiful, sensitive job on his assignment, and I was moved by his words. I felt he must have absolutely believed in what he had written, and it was a joy to listen to him read it to us - he very much reached me emotionally. Now listen, I'm a hard-faced businessman, I don't do that stuff. Oh, it seems I do.

Back home I unraveled the MS software and all is tickety-boo once again in the house of London.

First session with the Course Leader, or dominatrix. If I never remember anything else about today I will instantly recall we were told in no uncertain terms, Wikipedia is not to be used on the course for any purpose. Crack of sjambok against riding boot. Repeat after me. Fair enough.

We were given loads of mysterious e-tasks to carry out either now or in the future. I very much fear I will take the latter option - if it is an option. I feel rather bombarded at the mo with information, activities and discoveries yet to make. I look around me. How are my colleagues doing? Are they better than me? Do they look tired? Good, yes!

Interesting. In the afternoon we formed groups of four and again critiqued each other's work. My previous existence of drafting and redrafting business agreements and contracts over many years has made me quite sanguine about revealing my work to others, and changing it in line with their suggestions (if polite).

And change there was. My piece received a small number of ideas for amendment, one of which was particularly useful, and I happily took them up. Which simply proves ten eyes are better than two.

The evening's guest speaker was Phillip Marsden, the travel writer. He was friendly and down-to-earth; listening to him was an enjoyable experience. When the next speaker visits I may ask questions, but tonight my brain was numb with overload and my situation was made very much worse because I knew
that after the talk I had to go shopping at Asda.

And who did I meet when I got there? Phillip Marsden.

What should I read into this?

More IT problems, that time at the college end. Our course is heavily dependent on the IT element being rolled out efficiently and performing properly. At the moment it's a bit clunky, and the jury is decidedly out.

Home study today. In other words, assignments.

Oh - and some light reading. We are encouraged to read far beyond the course recommendations. This is good, for most of what I read in my (decreasing) spare time does not feature prominently on the course reading lists. I realise John Buchan is today considered rather dated by some, and that the world of sci-fi has been 'sexed-up' since The Midwich Cuckoos, so I had better spread my literary wings.

Life Class
sounds promising, though that isn't on the lists either. I wonder if it's illustrated?